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In May of 1973, the Alaska State Legislature took a bold step forward for the State and the Alaskan fishing industry by adopting the Limited Entry Act. The Act called for the creation of a resource agency "to promote the conservation and the sustained yield management of Alaska's fishery resource and the economic health and stability of commercial fishing in Alaska by regulating and controlling entry into the commercial fisheries . . ." AS 16.43.010(a).
The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (Commission) became the exempt, independent, quasi-judicial agency to carry out the mandate. Beyond its function as a regulatory agency, the Commission is a pivotal resource development tool of the Owner State. Today, some 48 of Alaska's fisheries are under limitation and additional requests for limitation are pending. The Commission plays an important role in the development and economic growth of Alaska's fisheries, contributes to the State's general fund, and provides data and analysis on a variety of fishery issues. The Commission is an essential component of fisheries management and Alaska's billion dollar plus industry.
When creating a limited entry system, if the legislature had been committed only to simplicity and economy, it could have conducted a lottery, or it could have authorized auctioning a limited number of property rights to its fisheries. These approaches were rejected by the legislature because they would not have been consistent with the State's most important objectives of protecting the resource and those who rely on the harvest of the resource. The Limited Entry Act protected the interest of only qualified, individual fishermen who could demonstrate tangible dependence on their fishery.
Extensive biological, economic, historic, and cultural data and analyses have been generated to aid the development, enactment, and review of entry limitation in Alaska. Thousands of hours of hearings throughout the State and before the legislature have informed the choices made in shaping Alaska's limited entry system. Alaska's courts have carefully scrutinized the program and developed a body of law governing limited entry in Alaska that is both extensive and unique.
This governing body of law has successfully upheld an intent of the legislation to keep the permits in the hands of those who most depend on their fisheries for their livelihood. The percentage of permits held by Alaska residents has remained relatively stable. Today, approximately 78% (more than 10,000) of all limited entry permits are still held by Alaskans, and more than half of that number are held by rural Alaskans.
Absent limited entry, many of the State's high-valued fisheries would experience large increases in effort by new entrants from several states. Such increases in effort would raise management costs and would likely threaten the resource and the livelihood of many Alaskans in coastal communities where commercial fishing is the cornerstone of the economy. Unchecked growth in commercial fishing would also threaten subsistence and other uses of the resource.
1993 was a year of transition for the Commission. In July, Dale Anderson of Juneau was appointed to the Commission upon the resignation of Richard Listowski who had served as a Commissioner for ten years.
Throughout 1993, given depressed world market conditions (coupled with Alaska user conflicts and some run failures), the Alaska fishing industry found itself in a financial crisis. The condition presents a problem of survival for many fishermen. These crises and many other varied issues from all sectors of the industry generated a very demanding year for the agency. A recap of several significant accomplishments of the Commission illustrates the degree of proficiency and commitment of the Commission staff to the purpose and goals of the agency.
Following the 1992 court decision in IRS v. Lorentzen, the Commission developed and successfully worked for passage of Governor Hickel's SB 449 to govern forced transfers of entry permits and to protect the interest of the State. The Commission fully recognizes the importance of limited entry permits to the economic survival of local communities. Consistent with the original purposes of the Limited Entry Act, the Commission has worked diligently to avoid the loss of entry permits from the hands of local fishermen during the current troublesome times.
The Commission completed an optimum number study for the Southeast Alaska roe herring purse seine fishery and adopted an optimum number regulation pursuant to the study.
The Adjudications Section is responsible for processing applications for entry permits in limited fisheries and conducting hearings for those who contest Commission decisions affecting them. In 1993, the Commissioners adjudicated 154 final decisions (up from 115 in 1992). 163 hearings were conducted by the hearing officers, who issued 142 decisions. Paralegals continued to conduct hearings and appeals of denied emergency transfer requests.
The Data Processing Section has continued to refine the Commission's essential computer support strategy. As a cost-saving effort and to increase productivity, a newly developed licensing system was designed for the Commission's local area network of personal computers. This has allowed data processing to establish an electronic bulletin board system (BBS) for accessing licensing and other fisheries information which is updated on a nightly basis. Access to the BBS can be gained by using a personal computer equipped with a modem and calling 789-6159. The net result of these efforts provides information in the spirit of the public access statute signed into law in 1990 and does so at a reduced cost to the agency.
The Licensing Section annually issues an average of about 32,000 permits and 17,500 vessel licenses and reviews approximately 1,800 transfer requests. Beginning in the fall of 1993, the licensing staff initiated testing for the complex transition to the newly developed licensing system.
The Research Section provided the background research and analyses on issues raised by the public, the Governor's Office, the Department of Fish and Game, the Board of Fish, the Legislature, as well as the Commission. The section produced two reports on the herring fishery in Southeast Alaska and an update on the changes in the distribution of Alaska's limited entry permits by residence of holders. At the request of the Governor, the Commission provided data and analyses to support Alaska's interests before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Over the past year, the Commission staff has become more aware of the gravity of the present struggles facing Alaska's fishing industry. Nonetheless, as a food source important to Alaskans and the world, Alaska's fisheries remain without question one of its most important renewable resources. Alaska's fisheries employ a substantial segment of the State's population, and many remote communities rely upon commercial fishing as their primary economic base. Therefore, the combination of sound management and wise commercial development of its fisheries remains crucial to the people of Alaska. The Commission renews its commitment to apply its resource tools toward the economic health and stability of commercial fishing in Alaska.
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